Dogs rely on a lot of non verbal communication with each other and us for a number of reasons. Eye contact is used by dogs as an important form of communicating authority and hierarchy in the pack. Though dogs rarely stare openly into each others eyes because confrontation is something that most dogs wish to avoid at all costs, as direct contact can signify both rudeness and a challenge to authority.
A dominate dog will stare down an inferior dog in order to assert its authority and position in the pack, whereas the submissive dog will look away and expose its neck in order to avoid conflict and to show subservience.
However, dogs may watch the eyes of their human owners or stare at us in order to assess the signals that we give. They may also be seeking attention or hoping to receive something good. A few other reasons that dogs look at us are:
our ability to provide food
clues about our emotional state
assessing our intentions
information about what is happening in their world
It is believed that the dog’s unique ability to look into our eyes and hold our gaze was one of the first steps in domestication, and since dogs have been domesticated for at least 10,000 years (and some scientists believe much longer, up to 100,000) this ability has been selected and carried down the generations of dogs.
It is felt that dogs and people bond through eye contact . … but now, scientists have found actual proof that the connections between humans and their dogs have the same biochemical basis as the mother-child bond, and it’s strengthened by the same thing: a loving gaze.
In fact, research in Budapest using eye-tracking technology shows that dogs are as sensitive to their owner’s looks as small children are with their parents. They recommend that owners increase their eye contact with their puppies so that they can build a better relationship, and getting the dog to maintain eye contact is now an important part of training.
However, looking into a dog’s eyes is not the same as staring and most dogs can tell the difference between the two. Staring can be a threat in dogs and in some other species. When someone stares at a dog, maintaining eye contact when he or she has no right to do so, it can make an already nervous dog hostile or scared.
If you encounter an unfamiliar dog try to avoid looking directly into his/her eyes and instead look at ears or feet. Because dogs have an excellent knowledge of body language, the dog will be watching you to understand your intent, though you may not realise it.
Dogs are great companions and want to be loved. Since dogs know that what we think will influence our behavior to them, they are looking at us because they want to know how we feel.
Look into my eyes and tell me differently.